Army order allows Facebook, Flickr on some stateside computers
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, June 13, 2009

WASHINGTON — Army officials have ordered network managers at 81 U.S. locations to unblock Web sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter as part of an effort to standardize access to the popular social networking tools.

On Wednesday, Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog posted a copy of the Web filtering order, which said the change was based on “the intent of senior Army leaders to leverage social media as a medium to allow soldiers to ‘tell the Army story.’ ”

For now, the order from 7th Signal Command applies only to networks in the U.S. under the Army’s Installation Management Command, including Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lewis in Washington and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Stephen Bullock, strategic communications director for 7th Signal Command, said information management directors at the 81 locations were informed of the changes in mid-May, and should be allowing access to the sites by now.

“We’re really just applying a consistent filtering standard which should improve our operations,” he said. “We’ve had different (network managers) applying different standards with no reason behind them.”

The order mandates that base computers allow access to five sites — Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Vimeo and Delicious — but does not make any changes on the list of 12 sites banned on Defense Department computers worldwide that the Pentagon released two years ago.

Those sites — YouTube, MySpace and Pandora, among others — remain inaccessible through government computers at the bases, although there are no such restrictions on soldiers with personal computers using nondefense networks. Other sites with pornographic or objectionable material are also banned under Pentagon guidelines.

The new 7th Signal order also tells network administrators to start making changes in their Blackberry telephone servers to allow mobile versions of the sites to be accessed through the cell phone networks.

Army officials have been using the social media sites for years as a recruiting and public relations tool. The Army.mil homepage has links to the five allowed sites and Youtube. Fifty-five Army installations have Flickr photo pages and 39 others have official Facebook accounts for news alerts.

But Bullock said as service leaders have encouraged troops to use the tools, inconsistency in access to the sites has frustrated those efforts.

“We want a soldier using these tools at one site to be able to go on TDY to another place and not have to worry about having access to the same sites,” he said. “This really improves our service.”

The order applies only to Installation Management Command because so far they’re the only subordinate command to falls under 7th Signal Command, which was stood up this spring.

Over the next few years, Bullock said, all domestic Army commands will integrate into their network systems and rules, at which time officials hope to have a network access standard for all U.S. Army bases.

Last month’s order has no effect on overseas bases; guidance will come from their respective signal commands, Bullock said.

Bullock could not comment on why the five Web sites listed in the order are now allowed while the 12 others are still banned. Defense Department officials have said that sites with streaming video and audio are a drain on the military computer system, potentially slowing down access for all users.

Ellie